Newfoundland 2011: One Big Dog


Expedition Leader
T Minus One Week

Saturday 8/22. We don't usually over plan trips and this one was no exception. With one week to go there were just three small things to do before leaving...

Service the Jeep. Fix the transfer case shifter which suffered at my hands the last time it misbehaved, the fuel gauge which stopped working after a dip in a puddle and, finally, some bad drivetrain vibration which started sometime after not fitting between a rock and a tree the weekend before.

After some wrestling with rubber washers the transfer case shifter finally stayed put, with no rattling, and it even shifted. Then I replaced the chain and sprockets on my motorcycle, went rock climbing in New Hampshire and finally left for JFK airport 200 miles away in NYC where I was working all week.

Debbie wisely arranged for Bobby, our mechanic, to ready the Jeep in my stead. Its disturbing enough when you have your mechanic on speed dial but when your mechanic remembers your own phone number that's another thing entirely!

We drive a 2005 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Sahara. Feel free to arrange the same words in a different order if that makes more sense. For those who don't speak Jeep, this is the two door long wheelbase model with locking differentials and is named after the Sahara movie and it is our second Wrangler. The first one, a 1997 model, is still going strong despite the efforts of two learner drivers and years of New England salt. Based on that experience we fully expected that the replacement would be just as reliable.

Readers of our 2010 report from Michigan may remember that we are no stranger to mechanical issues. That trip saw the premature death of several fuel pumps before a split hose in the fuel tank between the fuel pump and the sender unit was diagnosed as the cause. More recently we've paid a couple of big bills including a replacement gearbox just a couple of months ago. (The six speed manual transmission is a Mercedes unit and after a while it doesn't like to go backwards.) On our part we do try to make sure that nothing fails because of anything we should have done.

Get maps. I've always liked maps, which I can pore over for hours while exploring in my head. I figured we'd be able to get detailed-enough paper maps en-route through mainland Canada. Not wanting to miss out on pre-trip exploring, I ordered Topo Canada on DVD and planned to spend some quality time with BaseCamp before leaving. This trip was a first for us, with an additional navigator in the form of a Garmin GPSMap 78S – our first GPS – which we hoped would settle disputes between the other two navigators. Would that be a wise decision? We shall see...

Wait out hurricane Irene. We had originally hoped to leave on Saturday but with storms approaching we decided our kids (one working, one at college) who live at home would probably disown us if we left for vacation with a tree sticking out the house! Fortunately the worst of the storm missed us and the house remained intact and the basement dry. For the most part our city neighborhood fared well although downed trees broke power lines and squashed at least one car. Fortunately nobody was hurt.

As I write this three weeks later our neighborhood is fine but the widespread devastation in Western Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and other East coast states is going to take a long time to repair. Our best wishes go out to those folks.
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Expedition Leader
To the Land of Tim Hortons

Monday 8/29. We left a powerless house behind and cruised through New Hampshire and Maine to Calais where we passed from the land of Dunkin Donuts to that of Tim Hortons. We had planned to stop in St. John, New Brunswick to stock up on food, book the ferry and maybe even surf the tidal rapids before pushing through to Nova Scotia. That was the plan. What happened was this: We broke down!

Back to the story: About 20 miles from St. John there was a sudden lurching and loss of power, shortly followed by the ominous “Check Gauges” light, loud ticking from up front then squealing. No go. A call to a friendly CAA dispatcher and equally friendly tow had us parked at the Chrysler dealer in town. Unfortunately the service department had just closed so we walked to the restaurant next door to eat – and cry in our beer – before retiring to the comfort of the roof-top-tent on the Jeep.



Expedition Leader
Reversing Falls? Reversing Fortunes!

Tuesday 8/30. For the first time ever we were first in line for auto service and after the chap who opened up got over his surprise he made us coffee and we waited. The TV in the waiting area was tuned to the Boston Channel 7 news station and we confirmed that over 160 thousand homes are without power (including ours), and we should count ourselves lucky. And we waited. We wondered why the Boston local news is on TV. And we waited.

While we were waiting a technician had plugged his computer into the Jeep and followed that with a long discussion with the Chrysler tech support crew. The diagnosis: the cam sensor is broken. What that really means: if its floating around the engine, the engine is broken. They won't know until they pull off the oil pan. Then some painful worst case dollar amounts were said.

It was made clear that we wouldn't be going anywhere under our own steam unless we found some different steam so we trotted down the road to a car rental place which didn't have any cars but hooked us up with a pickup truck which we filled with most of the junk in the Jeep.

The technician said that it looks like the oil pump broke. Our hearts sank.

We found the reversing falls opposite the pulp mill where at low tide there are some rapids with some large waves. I had hoped to find some local kayakers there but another day, maybe. Downstream the whirlpools looked huge from way up on the bridge.

Fortunately the junk in the Jeep included a small two person hike tent so we drove to the closish New River Beach Provincial Park which has a very pretty beach but the camp sites are sandwiched between that and the noisy highway.

We discussed our options and agreed that if the Jeep engine really did need to be replaced we weren't going to let it ruin our vacation. We would simply take the rental truck to Newfoundland and collect the Jeep on the way home. Then we cried into some more beer.


Expedition Leader
Surfs Up

Wednesday 8/31. Some luck at last! There were kayakers at the reversing falls and I joined them and surfed some big standing waves for a while until the rising tide flattened them out.

It seems that everybody in St. Johns speaks with an Irish accent and is a die hard Red Sox, NY Yankees, NY Mets or Dodgers (from when they were in Brooklyn) fan. No love for Toronto or even the late Montreal here!

For lunch, Tim Hortons served us nice sandwiches on real plates and also coffee, which was.... To be honest the coffee was a bit of a let down. I'm not a coffee snob by any means but I was rather hoping for some French influence. Even Dunkin Donuts, which I try to avoid, tastes stronger and nicer than this. In their defense, and to offend a third nation, both are superior to the undrinkable instant stuff the British mistakenly call coffee. I'm an Anglo-American double agent on vacation in Canada so maybe I should stick to tea? Debbie, on the other hand, is a full blooded American coffee snob and was almost inconsolable when she discovered that the cappuccino is the same undrinkable instant stuff gas stations serve at home. Tea for her, too!

We had been avoiding learning our fate for long enough and – after promising not to shoot the messenger – we learned that the oil pump had failed, the closest new engine was three days away and after the holiday weekend would take at least two days to install.

So with the expected but still heavy feeling in our stomachs we made one last trip to the broken Jeep to pull out the refrigerator. Which, in a quiet parking lot and after lots of trial and error, was secured in the back of the cab of the truck using some kayak roof rack straps and some leftover firewood from the previous night. Finally, about 48 hours after the GPS had originally suggested and in a completely different vehicle, the journey continued in the direction of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

Some good news though: power was finally restored at home so kids could do all the important things like cook, bathe in hot water, watch TV, update their Facebook status, etc.


Expedition Leader
Newfoundland Ahoy

Thursday 9/1. Another rather noisy night outside Baddeck, NS as the traffic for the 7 am Newfoundland ferry roared past our cosy beach at 4 am! Oh well, we'll be on our way soon enough. After breakfast watching the Englishtown cable ferry shuttling school buses we headed to North Sydney and the more sociable 11am ferry. Before boarding we chatted with the chap behind us in the line, a “Newfy” exile returning to his holiday home who said that most people living on the island were either too young to leave for better jobs or old enough to retire at their birthplace. We suspected that was an exaggeration but certainly speaks about the economy of the island.

The ferry was uneventful, calm seas but windy on deck and dropped us in Port Aux Basques the promised five hours and a half time zone after departure. The rugged, smooth and green but mostly treeless landscape was startlingly different from the mainland and reminded me of the Scottish highlands. All we needed were sheep...

A short drive to J. T. Cheeseman Provincial Park had us camped, fed and sat comfortably by a fire before the sun set. Finally, we were on vacation!



Expedition Leader
Saint George and the Lobster

Friday 9/2. Table Mountain rises 518m inland from the shore where we had camped and a narrow gravel road appeared to climb through a valley one side of it. Rental truck: game on! Steeper than it looked, low range was soon required and took us to a flat, barren ridge to two large antennas, the remains of old workings and great views of the surrounding valleys.

Trying not to think of broken engines

The lighthouse at Cape Anguile is the Westernmost point on the island and home to some sheep and where we ate lunch. Not sheep, but its hard to tell with pate sometimes.

A ways North on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) took us to the Port au Port peninsula which was first settled by the French and contrasts Long Point – which is both and flat – and the sea cliffs at Cape St. George. The common factor was many small harbors full of lobster pots and boats.

We camped at the Parc Boutte du Cap where there was a sign saying something like “You're welcome to explore and camp here and we hope you see whales and Northern Gannets but please don't fall off the cliff and break it.” We did, did, didn't, didn't, didn't and didn't, the sunset was nice and we really appreciated the positive attitude of the folks who run the park. They even provide a bread oven.

Name the flags!
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Expedition Leader
No Unpaved Roads? Oops!

Saturday 9/3. A lazy morning in Stephenville delivered clean clothes, a full fridge, stretched to the limit stomachs and a trip to the barber. (You may remember that when we left home the power was off and many businesses were closed.) Unsurprisingly the barber liked to talk and I learned that so many youngsters had left for jobs elsewhere in the country that there's a generation gap in the workforce so there wouldn't be anybody to replace the current workers when they retire. Nobody wants to be a farmer or fisherman which used to be the mainstay of the economy and the government was planning on letting many of those communities expire. Hopefully the new mining and oil industries would turn that around.

We drove East in the direction of the center of the island and turned back at the head of Route 480 which reminded us that we should have left town with a full tank of gas because the next town was that far away.

So we drove back West, got gas, and drove along the South side of Red Indian Lake where the pot holes were deep and the bridges narrow. I jumped up and down on a couple of them to prove to Debbie that they were strong enough. Later I made the mistake of looking at the underside of one to discover the retaining walls were made of Stilton cheese.

After much trial and error – read reversing for miles – one of the trails on the side of the road led down to the lake, didn't have a cabin at the end and was wide enough for the truck. We camped on the beach, grilled fresh Atlantic salmon and watched another great sunset.



Expedition Leader
Exploits River Exploited

Sunday 9/4. The Exploits river runs Northeast from Red Indian Lake through the center of the island past Grand Falls-Windsor and Bishops Falls where hydro-electric generation has destroyed multiple whitewater opportunities, probably of the hairy variety. Damn dams!

We got back in our V6 gasoline powered rental truck and left. Debbie had read in the tourist guide of a loggers festival in Gambo. We love local events; this is where you really see the color of the community and meet some interesting people. Here we joined the whole town cheering on competitors who were throwing axes, chopping wood, dragging tree trunks and wielding chainsaws. No limbs were severed despite some of the ladies teams running between the beer tent and the arena!

Lack of planning on our part had us looking for camping at dusk at the Deadman's Bay Provincial Park where there was none. We grilled sausages and wandered off in the direction of Island Pond searching for the perfect spot but found only a flat (P rated) tire. Fortunately the junk we took from the Jeep just happened to include a plug kit and portable compressor so we were soon back on the road and returned to the first rough dead-end road we had found and called it a night.


Expedition Leader
Breakfast With Bergs

Monday 9/5. Twillingate is Canada's iceberg hotspot and we weren't disappointed. A large slabby one was floating in the Back Harbour, with several bus size chunks breaking apart on the shoreline and soon a [insert suitable collective noun here] of iceberg peepers from near and far had gathered to watch.

It was a great spot for breakfast. Many more 'bergs of different shapes and sizes were migrating South past the lighthouse which hopefully ensures that no pesky boats get in their way.

The crew

The sun was out and the sea was as calm as a millpond, the perfect conditions for a boat tour to get a closer look and in retrospect I wish we had ignored the weather forecast for afternoon thunderstorms. Instead, though, we discovered the Auk Island Winery which produces great wines from locally picked fruit and berries. Gooseberry my favorite.


Weather is a favorite topic of conversation wherever one travels and Newfoundland was no exception. Our experience so far was warm and sunny all day every day, usually with a gentle breeze to keep the bugs at bay and car doors closed, cooling off at night but not uncomfortably so. I suspect that the Newfies have been spreading lies about the poor weather in order to persuade tourists to stay home. To be honest I don't blame them – this place would be spoilt if it was overrun with tourists like us.

It started to rain.

We camped at Dildo Run (fnarr, fnarr) Provincial Park, dined and drank wine. Not the fine local stuff which we're saving for a special occasion but a South African import of the Pinotage variety.

It continued to rain.

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